Hats fit for Heroes


I have some exciting news.

A couple of weeks ago, Charlotte from Palace Green Library at Durham University got in touch to ask if I would like to be involved in their Hats Fit for Heroes charity campaign. As part of their upcoming exhibition ‘Antarctica: Explorers, Heroes, Scientists’ (opens 17th October) the Palace Green Library in Durham are running a knitting event called ‘Hats fit for Heroes’. The idea is to ask knitters/crocheters/sewers to make hats based on those worn by Antarctic explorers and then to sell them with all of the proceeds going to Walking with the Wounded, a charity that works with wounded service men and women and which last year organised an Antarctic trek.

My Tom Crean Teacosy Hat pattern is one of the patterns they chose for the campaign.

I’m delighted to be part of the campaign. I’m very excited by the fact that something I did with this blog could have a real impact on the lives of others. I never thought that a teacosy could change lives! And I never thought anyone would ever describe me as a designer. But there you are.

If you missed the original post, you can read all about Tom Crean and his mighty hat here. Since I posted that piece back in February, I’ve been following Antarctic Discovery, a blog that publishes pieces from Shackleton’s diary. It makes for fascinating reading and I’d recommend it if you want to find out more about Antarctic explorers of the heroic era.

Hats have already started to arrive at Palace Green Library and I’m really pleased to see that there’s a couple of tea-cosy hats there already!


If you want to make a teacosy hat the pattern PDF is here:Tom Crean Tea Cosy Hat

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the campaign at #AHatFitForAHero

Here’s all the details from Palace Green Library about the campaign:


Could you knit, crochet or sew a hat fit for a hero?

As part of our upcoming exhibition ‘Antarctica: Explorers, Heroes, Scientists’ (opening 17th Oct 2015), Palace Green Library in Durham is seeking crafting enthusiasts to make hats fit for heroes, inspired by Antarctic explorers.

All proceeds will be donated to Walking with the Wounded, a charity working with wounded service men and women across the UK. The charity organised a trek across the Antarctic in 2013 (www.walkingwiththewounded.org.uk).

How can I help?

Get crafty and create your own hat fit for a hero. You can knit, crochet or sew your hat, and it can be adult or child sized. Be as creative as you like but if you are using someone else’s pattern, please make sure you have permission to make a hat that can be sold for charity.  If you are looking for a knitting pattern, we have teamed up with Woolaballoo in Hexham and knitting designers Jane Carroll of ‘Archives and Old Lace’ and Angelea McGarrah have kindly agreed to the use of their patterns based on authentic explorer hats. These will be available on our website in the next few weeks: www.durham.ac.uk/palace.green/headstart

Then simply bring along your finished hat to one of the drop off points in Durham, Hexham or Harrogate:

  • Palace Green Library, Durham
  • Woolabaloo, Market Square, Hexham
  • Woolabaloo stall, Hall B, The Knitting and Stitching Show, Harrogate (26-29 November only)

Or you can post your hat to:

Palace Green Library
Palace Green

We need to receive your hat no later than 30 November 2015. Please include your name and up to 50 words about your hat.

We are also running two free craft workshops with pattern giveaways to help get you started – details to follow.

We will be selling our hats from 1 December 2015  in the gift shop at Palace Green Library, Durham. All hats will cost £15.00 with all profits going to Walking with the Wounded.  We hope to raise even more money as Barclays Bank has kindly agreed to match fund the first £1,000 raised.

If you can, we’d love you to print and display the attached poster in your venue. If you need any further information or would like us to send you some printed flyers, please don’t hesitate to contact the good people at Palace Green Library: pg.library@durham.ac.uk or follow them on Twitter: @palacegreenlib


Sneaky peeks….jackets and skirts and shawls oh joy!

Today is rainy and miserable so I thought I’d cheer myself up with some crafting updates.

First up – progress on my Victorian walking jacket.

It’s slow going – I’m finding it hard to get the back of the neck to sit right and the problem with pinning something on myself is that every time I reach up to put in a pin I either stab myself or the whole thing moves around and I’m left taking random tucks. My method has been:  *try it on, squint critically, take it off, baste like my life depends on it, try it back on, wince, take it back off, unpick. Repeat from *.

I’m happy with bits of it. My embroidery has improved no end (considering I had zero embroidery skills at the start of the project, that’s not really very hard).  And the sleeves bring me joy. This may not look like very much to you but to me it is the pouffy sleeve of dreams (and of the late 1880s).

Authentic 1880s style

Authentic 1880s style – with a hint of my Mimi blouse by Tilly and the Buttons underneath

If I can persuade someone to take better pictures I’ll post better pictures soon. Once I’ve finished wrestling with the lining anyhow. At the moment, the lining looks like it’s making a mad dash for freedom. I had a mad idea of wearing it to the Roehampton graduation ceremony next week but I’m not sure if it’s going to happen…maybe the elves will finish it if I leave it out overnight?

Next Up: Vintage find of the week is this skirt kit.


Yorkshire Fine Woollens & Tweeds Skirt Kit

That’s right, a skirt kit, complete with lining and a zip and its own little sew-in label.

It cost me the princely sum of eight English pounds in a charity shop in Putney.  It’s a thing of wonder – mostly wondering where the hell it came from.  I haven’t been able to find out when Yorkshire Fine Woollens & Tweeds were producing these sort of kits or if there was a wide range of them.  There’s no company trading under that name now so I’ll have to do a but more investigating.  If anyone has any leads on skirt kits, please let me know!

This is definitely going to become a skirt though – I’m thinking a sort of Miss Jean Brodie style thing. The kind of skirt you can wear on a sit-up-and-beg bicycle with a basket of fresh bread and terriers on the front. Or the kind of skirt that you wear with thick boots and a scowl.

This past month, I’ve been taking part in a Terry Pratchett themed swap organised by Louise Hunt of Caithness Craft Collective and I’ve been busy getting a little package together for my swap partner.  I like listening to podcasts and audiobooks but I find I can’t use the sewing machine if I want to listen at the same time.[1] So over the last few weeks I’ve been doing a fair bit of knitting too – well, designing really. I’ve designed my first ever lace shawl.


Blocking the shawl…

I’m ridiculously pleased with myself about this – it brings elements of Estonian lace and English mesh lace together and it’s inspired by…well, I can’t reveal that just yet.  This is just a sneaky peek after all. I’m in the process of writing up my scrawls into an actual pattern that I will publish on this blog soon.


[1] My friend Jess once said my sewing machine makes a sound like a drunk person rearranging furniture – there might be something wrong with it but then again it’s ALWAYS made that noise so it might be OK.

In praise of Tom Crean: Polar Explorer and Hat Enthusiast

It’s Tom Crean’s birthday.  I celebrated by making large amounts of tea and using my new tea-cosy.  You see, it’s not just any old tea-cosy.  It’s a Tom Crean tea-cosy.  Hand-knit with the warmest, wildest Hebridean yarn I could find.

This post is not about my own research but rather related [1] to the research of Sinead Moriarty, a PhD student I work with at the University of Roehampton, who is investigating the representations of Antarctica in children’s literature.

One of the texts Sinead’s looking at is Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, a gorgeous picturebook about the Endeavour expedition which has been recently nominated for the Kate Greenaway prize for illustration.

Shackleton's Journey by William Grill, Flying Eye Books

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, Flying Eye Books

The book is gorgeous.  I’m enchanted by it.  I teach a module on Visual Texts for the MA in Children’s Literature at Roehampton and I love reading picturebooks and thinking about how words and images work together to create a text.

This picturebook is especially beautiful.

Grill makes excellent use of white space and his limited palette is appropriately matched to the spare text.  Grill’s landscapes are extraordinary; the tension between the tiny ship and the huge expanse of Antarctica is tangible in the third opening shown here with the ship placed down in the right-hand side, a position of uncertainty and danger.[2] The illustrations of the men – and dogs – have a Lowry-esque quality that at once makes the figures seem universal, like stick-men, and also deeply individualised.


They are at once archetypal and unique, supernatural and real.

This is Grill’s portrait of Tom Crean.

from Shackleton's Journey by William Grill

from Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill

At once a real man and a legend.

Crean is the man who went to Antarctica with Scott twice[3] and came back alive and THEN went back to Antarctica with Shackleton[4].  Voluntarily. He’s a big deal.

I won’t get into all the details of the Antarctic voyages or recount the dozens of amazing stories and examples of Crean’s fortitude and courage.  Like the time he was awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving for walking 56 km across the Ross Ice Shelf to get help for Edward Evans who was injured.  He did this walk alone with only a couple of biscuits and a stick of chocolate for sustenance.[5]   Or when the dog-handler Shackleton hired for the Endurance expedition didn’t turn up[6], Crean took charge of the dogs.  Including all the puppies.[7]


There’s something wonderful about this giant of a man having an armful of puppies.

And after all his adventures he went home to Kerry, got married, and opened a pub called The South Pole Inn and led a very quiet life.

He was described as having “a fund of wit and an even temper which nothing disturbed.”  He enjoyed singing tunelessly and seemed to like animals very much.

Herbert Ponting's photo of Crean with Bones the pony in 1911

Herbert Ponting’s photo of Crean with Bones the pony in 1911

As well as taking care of puppies and ponies, he also smuggled a rabbit onto the Terra Nova.

He was also something of a hat enthusiast.

The first photo is probably the most iconic image of Crean and definitely my favourite of his hats. It’s definitely a ‘mighty’[8] hat.

Not that we have much historical evidence for this but Sinead and I both think this hat looks a bit like a tea-cosy.

In honour of Tom Crean, I made a pattern.  It’s a tea-cosy that doubles as a hat.  Very useful for cold research days.

It’s made with undyed Hebridean wool and is a nice chocolate brown colour. I picked it up in a sale in Fibreworks Oxford. While it wasn’t nearly as scratchy as the Jacob’s yarn I used for the Ragnar Blanket, this wool was pretty coarse.  There were bits in it.  Lots of little bits.  If I’d swept up all the bits afterwards, I could probably cover the floor of a very small rabbit-hutch.

The second skein has a slightly looser twist and is a shade lighter in colour so under some lights, if you squint, you can see where I changed skeins but I don’t really mind – that sort of colour variation is natural and the difference in twist is, I think, normal with handspun yarn because different spinners work with different tensions.

It’s very warm and, if you choose to wear it as a hat, the rib-section is long enough to double-back on itself to make a double-layer over your ears.

It’s a very simple pattern and it makes for excellent TV knitting. Download the free pattern here: Tom Crean Tea Cosy Hat.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Sinead’s research on Antarctica in children’s literature, she’ll be talking at the Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature (ISSCL) conference in Dun Laoghaire on April 11th 2015.  Do come along!


[1] If somewhat tangentially…

[2] See William Moebius, “An Introduction to Picturebook Codes” Word and Image 2 (1986) 2: 141—158 reprinted in Children’s Literature: The Development of Criticism, edited by Peter Hunt, 131–47. London: Routledge, 1990.

[3] Discovery expedition 1901-1904 and Terra Nova expedition 1910-1913

[4] Endurance expedition 1914-1917

[5] I find this amazing because I would struggle to get out of the house without at least a cup of tea as well.

[6] I wouldn’t blame him for having second thoughts…

[7] OK…maybe this isn’t a testament of his courage but it is a point in his favour in my book.

[8] This is the word I associate with massive, warm hats.  I was out walking in Mayo with my school group when I was only a slip of a girl.  I was cold so I was wearing the most enormous blue hat my mammy had knitted for me.  Out of nowhere a big mountainy man appeared, pointed at me, said “That a mighty hat, girl!” and promptly disappeared back up the mountain.

Heritage Week, or, the proximity of socks and fish


It’s heritage week and so it seems fitting to write and knit something heritage related.

I come from a little town you’ve probably never heard of.  Unless you’re really interested in socks.  Then you’ve probably heard of it.

Once upon a time Balbriggan was famous for its socks.  And stockings.  And spiffy underclothes.  But mostly socks. It’s basically all we are famous for.  We even made it to the dictionary.  And into Agatha Christie’s vocabulary.




Though the word ‘Balbriggan’ has fallen out of favour and when you type it into certain search engines, a rather unfortunate suggestion is made:




Once upon a time balbriggans were where it was at.  There were even ersatz impostor balbriggans like these:

Balbriggans box

Here the word ‘balbriggans’ clearly means silky onesie worn by mustachioed cads the likes of which your mother warned you about…


Anyway, the socks.  The town made lots of them.  We even made them for Queen Victoria and the Czarina of Russia, though to be honest, we mostly remember that we made them for Queen Victoria. Apparently she liked them a lot. I don’t know if it’s true but as kids we were told that Balbriggan socks were the only ones Queen Victoria would wear.  She was a sock snob.


The terrible cold-eyed stare of a woman waiting for socks

I have this image of her – stout, miserable, twice as formidable as Flora Klickmann, glaring out the palace windows at the fog[1] waiting anxiously for the next box of balbriggans to arrive (in my head she only wears socks once and then gives them to the maids).

I’m not all that surprised that she liked them.  The Balbriggan Heel is lovely. Karl, who is also a sock snob, claims that the Balbriggan Heel is more ‘secure’ than a French Heel or a Round Heel and now asks, nay insists, on the Balbriggan Heel every time.

Maybe it’s just a bit of nostalgia, or the fact that it’s a very easy heel pattern to remember (and it doesn’t matter how many stitches you start with) or even that I really quite enjoy doing Kitchener stitch but I like the Balbriggan Heel too.  I use it pretty much all the time now. I learned how here.

It’s kind of hard to see the effect of the heel in the dark yarn so I included some pictures of a sock I made ages ago.  Apologies for the quality of the pictures – it’s surprisingly hard to take photos of your own feet.

For heritage week I knew I wanted to share a pattern for Balbriggan socks but I also wanted to combine the iconic Balbriggan Heel with something else that spoke of my hometown and its traditions.


Or in any case fishing.

While the town has a square – well sort of a long diamond-shaped bit of hill[2] – the heart of the town is really the harbour – the BBC certainly thought so when they sent poor Michael Portillo there a couple of years ago.

Poor Mr Portillo.  He has a little guidebook and everything.  The expression on his face when the young fella starts going on about Queen Victoria’s underthings is priceless.[3]  And didn’t he do well to round up some nice old fishermen for a chat?  Actually, he didn’t.  Turns out some of the ‘old salts’ they wanted to interview didn’t look old enough so they swapped one of the not-so-ancient marniners out for one of the local historians who’d happened to stop by the filming. Being an innocent bystander is a great north county hobby – we’re world experts at loitering in the vicinity of interesting conversations and events.  And magically dispersing when things start to look dicey.  While it looks like a cosy chat on the quayside, I’m willing to put any money that just out of shot were ravening hoards of local nosies, swarms of grubby kids dying to be on “d’ telly” and a large and potentially murderous colony of grey seals.[4]

So, I give you the Balbriggan Harbour Socks. I’ve been thinking of these as sort of ‘young salt’ socks – traditional in their pattern and construction but not obviously oldy-worldy.

The pattern has two sizes – for women’s (approx. size 5) and men’s socks (approx. size 8-9) – there’s a full pattern with both sizes here with pictures and everything and then two ‘condensed’ patterns with the bare minimum of instructions and no pictures that can be printed on a single page.  I mostly knit socks on the go so I find condensed instructions quite useful like that…

Balbriggan Harbour Socks

Balbriggan Harbour Socks – Size One – Condensed Instructions

Balbriggan Harbour Socks – Size Two -condensed instructions


You can find out more about the history of Balbriggan here and here and, if you’re really enthused about socks, you can even plan a holiday here .  Really.

[1] Because London is always full of fog.  This is a fact.

[2] We have a lot of hills.  An awful lot of hills.  I don’t think I saw a straight line until I was twelve.

[3] If you are operating under the delusion that the English spoken in Ireland is the same as the English spoken in England, I invite you to watch this video closely.  Note especially the various ways the word “queen” is pronounced.

[4] There are a lot of seals in Balbriggan.  The town’s been campaigning to get a seal sanctuary for years but really I think it’s just a way of admitting that the seals basically own the place.

The Owl Service Hat

It is impossible to have too many hats.  I won’t leave the house without one.  I have hats for fancy occasions, hats for everyday, hats for messing around in boats, hats for sitting in the garden, hats I wear when I’m grumpy, and hats I wear when I’m happy. Very often, people assume that this means I will wear any kind of hat.  I will not.  I am rather fussy about my hats.  I take my hats very seriously.  The Owl Service Hat was something I’ve been thinking about and planning for quite a while.

Last summer I went to see an exhibition of magical books in the Bodleian and saw many wondercrump things.  A facsimile of the Aleitheometer from His Dark Materials.  The Six Signs of power made for Susan Cooper by her husband.  Some old manuscripts about demonology and spells.  And, tucked into a dark corner, one of the dinner plates that inspired Alan Garner’s The Owl Service.

The Owl Service Plate

The Owl Service Plate

I don’t know if you’ve read the book.  You should.  It’s brilliant and bloody scary.  The book reprises the story of Lleu Llaw Gyfees, Gronw, and Blodeuwedd from the Mabinogion. As well as being full of difficult names, the story is complicated.  Lleu is unable to marry a human wife and so has a magician make him a wife out of flowers.  She is beautiful but, like many beautiful things in legends, not very sensible.  She has an affair with Lleu’s best friend, Gronw.  The two men, jealous and enraged, kill one another and Blodeuwedd is cursed for her infidelity and turned into an owl.  In Alan Garner’s book, the valley is haunted by the legend, a story that is ‘still happening’ in each generation.  The story, like the pattern on the plates that inspired it, is complicated, shifting, hard to pin down.  And even Alison, the character who is possessed by Blodeuwedd has to be reminded which she really is:

‘“You’ve got it back to front, you silly gubbins.  She’s not owls.  She’s flowers.  Flowers.  Flowers, Ali.” He stroked her forehead. “You’re not birds.  You’re flowers.  You’ve never been anything else.  Not owls.  Flowers…”‘ (Alan Garner, The Owl Service, (1967), p.155)

It’s plain that only a great effort of concentration can help distinguish the harmless flowers from the demonic owls.

So when I saw the plate I was mesmerised. The design was so obviously flowers and then at the next moment could never have been anything but flowers….like one of those magic eye puzzles where you can see the old lady or the young lady but not both at the same time.  Because the old lady IS the young lady and the flowers ARE owls.  And I knew I wanted to make it – to make a pattern that was owls and flowers and both at once.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to make with the pattern…it had to be something round for the pattern to work.  Maybe the yoke of a jumper or a semi-circular shawl?  On the end I decided to make something that was the same size as the original dinner plates. Because that’s the sort of logic that appeals to me.

And I wanted to make it out of yarn the same colours as the book cover.  Because that’s another sort of logic that appeals to me. I used Malabrigo Worsted Chapel Stone for the Main Colour and Malabrigo Rios Teal Feathers for the contrast colour.  I think they are a pretty good match.

So the plan for The Owl Service Hat was born.  I printed out a photograph of the Owl Service plates and traced over them (I simplified the pattern a lot because I am not mad enough to make something with a 120 stitch pattern repeat).  And I made a chart based on the pattern with this fabulous and handy website.


The chart looks like an owl by itself (and looks even more like an owl if you stand on your head) but once the patterns are joined up in the round the wings touch and make the outline of a flower with soft, rounded petals.

I used the chart for a hat but I think it’s pretty adaptable – you could omit the decreases and use the chart for a cowl or a pair of socks or something completely different if that takes your fancy.  I might try some owl socks in an idle week.

Once I’d settled on the design it didn’t take very long to make, about half a week’s worth of commutes.  The finished hat is something between a tam and a beret with a sort of lazy-fair isle vibe.  I used one of the dinner plates from my Dragon Aunt’s dinner service as a blocking template and, once I’d managed to stuff the hat in there it worked beautifully.  I’d totally recommend it.  Though if you have a small head or less hair than I do, maybe a soup plate would make more sense…


You can download the pattern here: The Owl Service Hat

The Ragnar Blanket

We love Vikings.  We love their literature, their art, their stories and legends.  We love that they came and settled in our part of Ireland (Fingal means ‘blond strangers’ and lots of the town names have echoes of Old Norse and Icelandic in them).  So when Vikings became a TV thing, we loved that too.  Naturally, my heart went out to Floki, the poetic and demented ship-builder.  But Karl was all for Ragnar.  Because Ragnar kicks ass.  And, before he kicks ass, he wraps himself up in a snuggly blanket and thinks about just how much he wants to kick ass.


Once Karl saw the blanket, he knew he had to have one.  And I knew I had to knit it.

Sadly, we never get another good look at Ragnar’s blanket.  By squinting at my screen I deduced that it had textured bits and cabled bits.  I drew up a sort of pattern that included a couple of small cables and a big central cable.

The finished product looks like this:

Then I went searching for some authenticish Viking-type yarn.  I wasn’t about to fork out for Lopi for something as big as the blanket (4 foot by 6 foot if you please) so I went looking for undyed yarns.  I found this undyed Jacob’s yarn.  It’s scratchy and full of VM and weird bits that I’m pretty sure came from other sheep that the Jacob attacked and murdered.  It stinks of sheep.  But it’s a great colour. And there’s half a kilometer of yarn in each cone.  My blanket used nearly two kilometers of yarn.


Charts One and Three are worked over 8 rows and so will be repeated twice for every one repeat of the central cable pattern.

The central cable pattern I used is modified from the wonderful Viking Bag pattern on Ravelry.  There are many examples of this woven cable but this is by far the best example. The designer, Karen, kindly put the pattern up online for free here.  I used the big cable from the bag (28 stitches) and then added a purl stitch either side to make an even 30 to allow for a little more space between the cable and the slip-stitch pattern panels.  You could use any large cable pattern that you fancy though – just remember to adjust the total number of stitches if you do!

Slipped Stitch pattern:

  • Right side: Slip 1, K1, YO, PSSO
  • Wrong side: Purl all stitches


Cast on 196 stitches and work one row as follows – knit 2, purl 11, place marker, knit 70, place marker, purl 30, place marker, Knit 70, place marker, purl 11, knit 2

This establishes the blocks for your cables and for slip-stitch sections

Work one row, knitting the knits and purling the purls and turn work ready to begin charts.

Work Chart One over first 13 stitches

chart one

Work Slip-Stitch Block one:  *Slip one, Knit One, YO, PSSO* repeat to next marker

Slip marker, Work Central Cable pattern over next 30 Stitches, Slip marker,

Work Slip-Stitch Block Two: *Slip one, Knit One, YO, PSSO* repeat to next marker

Work Chart Three over remaining 13 stitches

chart Three

Now, it’s a matter of working these 16 rows until you run out of yarn or patience or both.

Finally, work your rune-chart.   Runes are important.  The Old Norse speakers of Medieval Iceland and Scandinavia loved marking things with runes.    Including insult-poles or níðstöng.   Obviously, when Winters last for months and months, tensions can build up. Rather than go and murder your neighbour straight away, it’s best to egg him into attacking you by making a níðstöng and setting it up in his front garden. I think of this as medieval equivalent of ringing someone’s bell and then hiding in the bushes giggling when the answer the door.[1]  Other uses of runes include graffiticommemorative stones and generally telling people who owns what.[2]

For me, it’s not enough to write something in modern English using runes – that’s just silly – so I called in the troops (Thanks, Kyle) and got this: Jóna gerði þessa fyrir Karli inni Kráku or“Jane made this for Karl the Crow”.

Each of my runes was 10 stitches high and between 1 and 8 stitches wide.  I made a pattern on some graph paper. I just managed to squeeze all the characters I wanted into the 196 stitches on a row.  I’m not mad on the result as it is a little…subtle.  I will stitch over the runes in red.

Here are the rune-staves from the Furthark – my attempts at charting them are below!


Edit: here are the Futhark Charts as promised!

[1] I know that I shouldn’t think of Vikings as a bunch of bold children but I can’t help it. I found out they wore mittens.  I can’t shake the image of then dangling on strings out the bottom of their sleeves.  I bet their mothers made them bring hankies when they went raiding and everything.

[2] I bet their mammies wrote their names on the inside of their jackets too.